Stephen McClean waits in the middle of Collins Avenue as five lanes of cars on Swords Road cross in front of him.
“I was run over at this junction when I was a kid,” he says, over a tumult of traffic. “I was fine.”
He’d been with a group of his friends, all on bikes, waiting for the light to go green. “The car was just behind me, and one of the lads hit off me and I fell onto his bonnet,” he says.
Cars clog this junction all day, he says, and he rarely sees children waiting to cross it. Mainly it is people like him – men who are avid “Lycra” cyclists, he says.
“You have to be a bit of a daredevil, to cycle on what is basically a super highway,” says McClean, kicking off the road as the stream of cars stalls and the light goes green.
One of the cycling routes the council is looking to make better in the next five years is a 7.3km stretch from Finglas to Killester, which will pass down Glasnevin Avenue and Collins Avenue.
It’s working for the next six months on a plan for the route, and aims to present to councillors a list of interventions along this corridor in autumn 2021, according to a recent council report.
Some minor works on the cycle lane near the DCU entrance on Collins Avenue will go to tender in July, said a Dublin City Council spokesperson on Tuesday.
There are no designs for the scheme so far, but local cyclists like McClean are already hoping that the route will allow more people to feel they are safe to jump onto their bike.
McClean wants his three-year-old daughter May, already an eager cyclist, to be able to cycle around safely when she gets older, he says.
“Everywhere we go, we go on the bike,” he says. “She wants to get out and cycle herself already.”
It’s 10.50am, and three cyclists have passed over the Ballymun Road junction of Collins Avenue and Glasnevin Avenue in the last five minutes.
In the same time, hundreds of cars have busted through the junction on each side of the grassy barrier dividing the roads.
“We’re at peak low right now. This junction is insane during rush hour. Traffic heads in both directions. In the morning it’s pretty much stationary,” says McClean.
He pulls his bike up on the curb and stands watching the traffic sequence repeat itself, a conveyor belt of cars coming and going.
This junction, as well as the one at Swords Road, will be the most difficult for the designers of the Finglas to Killester cycle route, he says.
“Because they’re such wide junctions, you see the speed that cars are coming through, they’re coming off a motorway,” he says.
Neil Galway, an urban planning lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, says that given how wide and busy the junction is, for a cycle route to work, cars might have to concede priority.
“Realistically, if you’re trying to make cycling a viable alternative it’s probably gotta be the faster alternative and it’s got to be given priority really,” he says.
Infrastructure like Dutch-style roundabouts, such as one in Cambridge, where cars have to spend longer waiting as cyclists and pedestrians have priority, is one possible example, he says.
McClean, who works in IT, says he thinks removing the slip roads is a safe solution to avoid left-turning cars colliding with cyclists headed straight.
“The way I would like to view the world is that traffic evaporation will happen,” he says, meaning that with the right interventions, traffic levels fall.
At the moment, there are fewer cyclists because people see it as unsafe to cycle, he says.
But, “it’s a basic minimum requirement of infrastructure that we should have”, says McClean, “whether one person uses it, or 100 or 1,000 or 100,000”.
McClean says he can tell that a lot of people stuck in traffic live locally, frequently taking short journeys around the area. “You’re going to have to leave the car home at some stage for these local journeys,” he says.
Not all the traffic is local, though. A lot of drivers at the Ballymun and Swords junctions came from the M50, says McClean.
Galway, the lecturer at Queen’s, says that park and rides – where commuting drivers leave their cars and get on frequent Luas, bus or train connections into the city – are part of the solution.
Says McClean, the cyclist: “Who wants to bring their car into the city anyway? Unless you really need to.”
Cycling in the Village
On Glasnevin Avenue towards Finglas village, McClean tuts at the road’s bumps and cracked concrete.
“No actual massive potholes, just constantly bumpy, meaning you have to cycle out in the middle,” he says.
Every day Sarah Kiernan, and her son James, cycle through Finglas village and along Glasnevin Avenue, before turning off at Beneavin Road, to get to James’ school.
James, who is 10, likes cycling: “It’s faster than walking.”
Kiernan says she can’t face driving through the traffic in the morning. “It makes sense to cycle. The traffic has become really bad.”
But while cycling, there have been near misses, she says, when cars have cut across them to park on the pavement. “Sometimes they don’t even realise,” she says.
Kiernan isn’t the only one wary of cycling in the area.
“Over the years traffic in and around the village has been a bit mental, and people are kind of more reluctant to let kids on bikes down where it’s not segregated,” says Anthony Connaghan, a Sinn Féin councillor.
A junction at the centre of Finglas, known as the five-arm junction, is a nightmare for both cars and cyclists, says Briege Mac Oscar, a Fianna Fáil councillor.
“You could be sitting there half an hour in traffic at times. If you were able to get through Finglas village on a bike, I think it would be a game changer for local children and parents,” she says.
The council has said they will add a design team to solve issues at the five-arm junction, says Mac Oscar.
Caroline Conroy, a Green Party councillor, said she counted 17 schools in the area of Glasnevin and Collins Avenue, meaning the traffic can get very heavy at school times.
On their daily route, Kiernan and her son cycle on the path until they get to Beneavin Road, to avoid cars cutting across, or driving too close, she says.
Designing a cycle route in Finglas village will be hard, Kiernan says. “That village is so old, it wasn’t designed even for the volume of cars that it has. The roads are so narrow.”
Mac Oscar, the Fianna Fáil councillor, says that protected cycle tracks that have been added on Griffith Avenue have shown benefits.
“So if we could do that for Collins and Glasnevin Avenue, that would be fantastic,” she said.
Along Collins Avenue to the east, the road narrows and the cracked white line guiding McClean on his neon carrier bike becomes fainter.
It disappears before a junction on Malahide Road. After that, houses are closer to the road, more cars are parked up on the footpath, and cyclists are on their own alongside traffic.
Maddie Aitken, a resident on Collins Avenue, is unbuckling three-year-old Alistair from his carry seat on her bike. She cycles every day to St Anne’s Park or the seaside in Clontarf with him on the back, she says.
She doesn’t cycle on Collins Avenue, though. “It’s quite busy, and the cars just don’t give you enough room. And it’s very fast,” she says. She’d love a cycle lane, she says.
Bernard McEvoy, who lives a few houses up from Aitken, studies the cars trundling down the avenue, weighing up whether a cycle lane would work here. “Would it be wide enough though?”
With buses going up and down and cars up on the footpaths, “it’s going to be real awkward for the cycle lane. I don’t mind it though, nothing to do with me,” he says.
Aitken says she isn’t sure a cycle lane would entice her neighbours to start cycling, as they use their cars so often.
McEvoy says he would be open to it, although he drives most places, he says. “The shop is only down there. I drive down. I’m getting too old for all that now.”
Connaghan, the Sinn Féin councillor, says that if there were improved facilities here, more people might cycle to the 4km or so to Clontarf coast. “I think a lot of people would consider it anyway.”
Galway, the urban planning lecturer, says that just adding a segregated cycle route might not be enough – to get people to use it might require changes to the road surface, traffic lights and sequencing.
“I think convincing people that this is a safe route is going to be the most important thing,” he says.
Back along the route, a car honks behind McClean as he glides out of the cycle lane outside of Dublin City University and then back in.
“Honked at for the crime of cycling on the road,” he says.
There are plenty of cyclists outside the university so the cycle lane has been recently fixed, he says.